Going to the cinema to see Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri perked me up on a dark and wet Sunday afternoon, but not because it’s a jolly film. The humour is of the blackest kind. Grief and guilt hang over the lead character, whose daughter has met a violent end. But it was absorbing couple of hours, with the strong performances, compelling characters and well-paced plotting adding up to a heady concoction and giving me plenty to think about on the journey home (in the rain, again).
Three Billboards reminded me of one or two other recent movies, notably ‘Nocturnal Animals’. I wish I’d been able to go to the cinema more often, then I could put my finger on exactly what genre is emerging here, and what to call it. The tropes are ‘redneck’ towns, desolate roads, murder-rape, grieving parents, revenge and redemption. The cops are crooked and nasty individuals, or crooked and decent, or a nuanced mix of the two. A man may start at the villainous end of the spectrum only to clamber his way safely to the moral high ground well before the denouement. Intriguingly – and maybe it is not a coincidence – both Three Billboards and Nocturnal Animals feature a police officer whose terminal illness gives him a free pass to ignore the rules and do whatever the hell it takes to get some justice for the victim’s loved one.
The small town in Three Billboards is no ‘city of stars’ and the characters are resolutely unglamorous. But make no mistake: the cast deserves a place at the glitziest award ceremonies this year.